Count Bobby Broom as one of those jazz greats hiding in very plain sight. The nimble and continually inventive guitarist has, for years, played regularly on the uppermost echelon of jazz stages, as part of Sonny Rollins' band. On his own, though, Broom remains relatively low-key. While Rollins' audience tend to patiently await each sax solo, his bandmates are well worth hearing themselves, from the innately tasteful trombonist Clifton Anderson to the mighty fire of Broom's playing, which seems to have grown hotter and deeper in recent seasons.
On the plainly titled The Way I Play,
Broom is exceptionally melodic and clean-toned, giving "mainstream jazz guitar" a very good name. It's a deceptively casual live recording, caught at Pete Miller's in Evanston, Illinois, by Broom and his empathetic trio. With bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer Kobie Watkins, he traverses a thrilling and warming set, opening wittily with "Strike Up the Band." Broom navigates slippery bebop mazes, including "Donna Lee," "Surrey with the Fringe on Top" and Rollins' "Airegin." He flexes a cooler head on Sam Jones' "Unit 7" and summons up balladic poise for "Body and Soul."
A note about the sound beyond the notes: At times, the chatter in the club is embarrassingly disruptive. You can imagine yourself in that room, throwing deadly glances or, possibly, ice cubes at the rude patrons, and demanding: "don't you know who this is? Can you hear what he's doing?" But the story behind the album softens those urges: It was unofficially taped by one of Broom's students on a minidisc recorder. No "red light" intentionality was involved. Only upon later listening did Broom recognize the magic of what had been captured - crowd boorishness and all.